1 of 7. Crossing guards guide motorists though an intersection where traffic signals failed in power outages caused by heavy storms last week in Bethesda, Maryland July 5, 2012.
Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst
By Ian Simpson
LEWISBURG, W.V. | Thu Jul 5, 2012 9:53pm EDT
LEWISBURG, W.V. (Reuters) – Six days after violent storms hit the eastern United States, the state of West Virginia was struggling to recover on Thursday, with nearly a third of electricity customers still without power and new storms putting more people in the dark.
Electric utilities said more than 566,600 homes and businesses were without power from Ohio to Virginia, leaving them without air conditioning amid a scorching heat wave.
West Virginia, with a population of about 1.9 million, was the hardest hit. Utilities warned that some people could be without power for the rest of the week.
Huge trucks loaded with ice and bottled water roared through the picturesque West Virginia mountain resort town of Lewisburg to supply thousands of residents in the region who lacked power or water.
Plants that shut down during the initial power outages have resumed pumping but had not generated enough pressure to supply far-flung residents, Lewisburg Mayor John Manchester said.
Repair crews from as far away as Arkansas have set up a temporary campground on the town’s outskirts, where an empty field was filled with dozens of electrical trucks.
Jerry Morehead said he and his crew had been working up to 18 hours a day. “We turned some people on today – did some good work,” he said.
Katie Gwynn of Lewisburg said that until her power went back on Thursday, one of her neighbors had kept her refrigerator running with his generator and extension cords for six days – and would not accept any payment.
“The conditions have been ripe for great difficulties, but people have pulled together,” Manchester said, noting there had been no deaths or serious injuries in Lewisburg related to the storm.
The temperature in Charleston, the state’s largest city, reached 93 degrees Fahrenheit (34 Celsius) on Thursday and was expected to top 100 degrees on Friday and Saturday before returning to the mid-80s Monday, according to Accuweather.com.
Adding to the snarl and the strain on local infrastructure, tens of thousands of visitors streamed in to attend a professional golf tournament at the famed Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs near Lewisburg.
Thousands more were expected for weekend concerts at the resort featuring Rod Stewart and Jon Bon Jovi.
More power outages resulted from a fresh batch of damaging storms that pushed across southern West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and North Carolina on Thursday afternoon.
BAD NEWS FOR MIDWEST FARMERS
The continued heat wave was bad news for Midwest farmers, with the corn crop suffering from drought in the middle of a crucial growth phase.
The U.S. Drought Monitor showed an expanding area of abnormally dry and drought conditions in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Missouri. Corn and soybean prices jumped to new highs on Thursday as the heat scorched crops.
“It’s not only abnormally dry, but now you have 100 degree heat combined with the ongoing drought and it’s too much for the crop,” Accuweather.com senior meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said, adding that Washington, D.C., could on Saturday break its all-time record of 106 degrees (41 C) set in 1930.
The Midwest and East should start seeing more normal temperatures next week, when the extreme heat returns to the West and brings triple-digit temperatures to parts of Idaho, Utah, Washington and Oregon.
The temperature in Chicago hit a record 103 degrees on Thursday, before dropping 19 degrees with the arrival of a thunderstorm in the early afternoon. Summer school was canceled at 21 public school buildings without air conditioning.
Part of Columbus Drive near downtown was closed after the pavement buckled.
Around a ground-level fountain near downtown Chicago’s Daley Plaza at lunchtime, more than a dozen people were resting their feet in the cool water.
“Any time you can cool off one part of your body, it helps,” said Mary Moore, 56, of Chicago, who was dipping her feet in the fountain during a break from jury duty. She said she didn’t mind the sunny weather. “I prefer it to the winter,” she said.
The storms last Friday crossed the eastern United States with heavy rain, hail and winds reaching 80 miles per hour, leaving more than 4 million homes and businesses without power. The storms and the record heat that followed have killed at least 23 people.
American Electric Power Co Inc of Ohio said about 364,000 homes and businesses it serves remained without power in West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee and Ohio.
FirstEnergy Corp of Ohio said it was working to restore power to more than 111,000 customers in West Virginia and Maryland. That was down from the initial 566,000 homes and businesses affected by the storms.
Illinois-based Exelon Corp said its Baltimore Gas and Electric unit still had about 43,800 customers out in Maryland.
Virginia power company Dominion Resources Inc said about 21,000 customers were still without power in its Virginia and North Carolina service areas.
Washington, D.C.-based Pepco Holdings Inc said it had about 15,100 customers without power in the District of Columbia and Maryland, and about 11,700 were out in New Jersey.
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